Uncovering the Hidden History of Granary Wharf

Uncovering the Hidden History of Granary Wharf

As part of the national Heritage Open Day events across the country earlier this month, the team at Canal Connections hosted a really special event at Granary Wharf, inviting author and President of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Society, Mike Clarke, to present a guided walk around the wharf, uncovering the hidden history of this picturesque waterfront location. Guest blogger and willing participant of the tour, Alan Bolton shares his experience and learning from the event below….

“On 10th September, I joined a magical mystery tour of Granary Wharf, led by Mike Clarke, President of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal Society. One and a half hours of fascinating facts, stories, observations, old maps and photographs took us on a journey through 200 year of Leeds history, all within a 400 - yard radius.

Contrary to popular belief, the Leeds & Liverpool Canal does not begin at Granary Wharf, but at Leeds Bridge. The canal was 47 years in the making and the first passage from Leeds to Liverpool started on 15th October 1816.

That journey will be recreated on 15th October 2016, by the historic "Kennet", a Leeds & Liverpool short boat. 'Short boat' because the locks on the Lancashire side of the canal were built longer that on the on the Yorkshire side.

Right hand and left hand sound familiar?

The Kennet will leave Granary Wharf at 10.30am on Saturday 15th October, to a splendid send off with a brass band and a flotilla of boats!

We started our tour at River Lock which connects the River Aire to Granary Wharf. We saw how the lock entrance had had to be modified, shortly after it was built, to improve access to boats entering from the Aire. We also saw the "shafting holes" cut into the lock walls to allow the boats to be pushed through the lock by their crews using long wooden shafts.

This lock is particularly deep to allow boats access at whatever state of the river's level. The lock gates also provided insights into the commercial focus of Granary Wharf's development. At first, water was let into the lock through "ground paddles". Sluices were built into the walls of the lock, below water level so that the lock filled from below. This was quite a slow process. So, when the railways arrived, sluices were also put into the lock gates to speed up lock movements and cut journey times. The problem is, that the short boats were built to fit the locks snugly and gate sluices, letting water in at a higher level than the boats, were liable to flood into the boats and sink them. The ground paddles had to be opened first to let the boat rise above the gate sluices before they could be opened. The canal company were paid tolls based on tonnage carried and distance, but because a lot of boats came into Granary Wharf from the river, discharged their cargo and went straight back out onto the river - and used a lot of canal water in doing so  - the canal company charged a toll equivalent to 8 miles distance to use the lock.

With the coming of the railways to Leeds, the railway line was built on land owned by the canal company. Mike showed us the "Dark Arches" and explained how the canal company had only sold the land on which the piers for carrying the railway would be built, not the land between them. The canal company thereby gained a whole range of free warehousing beneath the railway line. Then there's the dry dock, the wet dock, the canal arm beneath the Dark Arches, Office Lock, the Boatman's Mission, the unique handcuff locks, the wooden floors, the squirting grids and so much more".


Mike Clarke will be back at Granary Wharf during the bi-centenary celebrations so If you get the chance, take the tour and experience a wonderful part of waterways heritage helping to build Leeds into the magnificent city of enterprise it is today!

Tales From The Towpath

Tales From The Towpath

Treasure the Treasures!

Treasure the Treasures!